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Causes and Effects According to Heidegger

Hiedegger’s Questioning Concerning Technology starts off with an understanding of essence and ends with a profound statement, “For questioning is the piety of thought.” Between these two milestones of that discuss lie nuggets; wealth, the quest for truth, essence and being; democracy, social and environmental justice; a few mention of technology itself, but Heidegger manages to ensure that the discuss is not drawn to technology in of itself but its essence. It is important to highlight that Hiedegger uses analogies to describe his philosophies and age old tradition of using the known to peer into the immediate unknown; hydroelectric power plants, the windmill, bridges, and of course the ultimate chalice in its chaliceness. It was as if he was using concepts that his audience understood and asking them to see beyond their understanding of the same to discover what the essence of every day things could further reveal. Thus, Hiedegger starts with the questioning of their own understanding – their understanding of technology. He starts his questioning from two points; essence and truth and arrives at a discuss that puts aside the mere definition of technology as a means to an end and as a human activity to a discuss that focuses on the essense of technology itself. For it is in understanding the essence of a thing that that thing is revealed to us. And the revealing of the thing is only but a small aspect of its essence that requires further questioning. Thus, questioning does not stop as seeking essence leads to more revealing.

Hiedegger starts by stating that the existing definitions of technology as instrumental and anthropological is limiting and enframing. He would go on to argue that enframing is “the extreme danger” to technology’s essence, and that it can block all “appearing of truth.” But we understand technology today purely from its enframing. This or that tool can be used for this or that thing. An ipod is for listening to music or the mobile phone is for talking only or that tool is not appropriate as an educational technology. Or this, or that… So much that we do not see the further use of the ipod or mobile phone for other uses.

Hiedegger goes on to argue that it is the instrumental definition of technology (and I reckon, our enframing of it) that allows us the freedom to classify technology as old or new. Hence, he would discuss the difference between the windmill and the hydroelectric power plant. Old vs. new technology. In our day, we will discuss the pencil vs. the word processor; Youtube and on demand TV vs traditional unidirectional broadcast models; or the chalkboard vs. the slide projector. At one point in time, what we now use, we questioned their essence only to accept them as educational technologies much later when we knew we would miss the train if we did otherwise. The enframing of technology allowing us the freedom to classify technology makes us see technology as a means to an end and not a process. If we could only see the pencil as belonging in the era of Youtube and facebook, perhaps we will question its essence such as would lead us into the “bringing forth” of an electronic stylus or a finger enabled 6th sense pointing device which in actual fact is an extension of the pencil; which in actual fact came from the early man drawing in the sand with the tip of his finger. Hiedegger questions enframing and enframing is limiting. For us to bring forth better things and to use technology for our good we must cast enframing aside.

We must also critically look at causes and effects. For causes and effects are linear and linearity is also an enframing. If this, then that. This goes before that and that only. Hiedegger uses the analogy of the chalice to argue that the four (materialis, formulis, finalis, efficiens) causes may be limiting and that the application of the four causes to the definition of technology limits technology’s essence and that the definition of technology as defined by the four causes makes it obscure. Hiedegger argues that cause efficiens, the import of the creator of the chalice erodes cause finalis (the purpose for which the chalice is created). For cause finalis is an end in itself and defining technology with an end is limiting. It is as if to say, if we have the fisherman, we do not need the fish.

Hiedegger goes on to argue that causa efficiens comes from the verb “to fall”, cadere, which has nothing to do with post aristocratic’s bringing forth but rather, an indebtedness to its matter (hyle), its shape (eidos), its circumscribing (telos), and the logos, who is responsible for the bringing forth of the substance. In every day terms, this translates to our what, why, how, when, who where of the substance in question. If in our quest of questioning the essence of technology we could iteratively answer those questions, then we are an iterative step closer each time to finding its essence, the truth about its bringing forth and the means of making it better for humans.

3 Comments

  1. Mike wrote:

    Thanks for this Ben. You really put these thoughts in a nice way. Your analysis rings true to me. I like the way you expressed enframing and ordering. Your examples show how if we enframe a certain purpose or end to a technology, it blinds us to other uses, it perpetuates being 'chained to technology' that Heidegger warns us about.

    Sunday, February 7, 2010 at 13:03 | Permalink
  2. Garry wrote:

    Yes, Ben, that was very well put. Your analysis is clear and really speaks to the prevelant human orientation toward technology today… a tool for this, a pill for that, etc. That paper from which I read in class also questions enframing, but not in the same sense as you have proposed here (the casting aside). In the essay by David Waddington, the significance of enframing (Ge-stell) is explained because it is difficult to understand why Heidegeer includes it at all. You have made a very pragmatic play on enframing, but Waddington points to Heidegger's orientation toward the mataphysical when he says "Essentially, Ge-stell is the dominant way in which Being is revealing itself to human beings right now." Modern technology then, is a reflection of the power of Being, a power that if abused/taken for granted, can turn and crush us like bugs. Being, through technology, is showing us its essence. It has the power to destroy, but also to save; consider CAT scanners and MRI machines. I don't think the enframing reality blocks truth, but the human attitude toward technology, the lack of consciousness of what technology represents, is the issue. That is the blindness. As people move forward using technology, they don't realize that they are playing with the shadows of Being on Plato's cave wall. Borrowing a line from Maddin's film, people are using the tools while "sleepwalking in the snow."

    Sunday, February 7, 2010 at 17:38 | Permalink
  3. roman wrote:

    Ben, I think your explanation of Heidegger's ideas is the most user-friendly I have seen to date. I thank you for the added clarification.

    When I consider your idea of the iterative approach to questioning I could not help but frame (enframe?) it in a mathematical context (I also thought of the hermeneutic circle but that can wait). Iterative questioning could be considered akin to repeated “halving”. By that I mean, one divided by 2 reveals ½, ½ divided by 2 reveals ¼, ¼ divided by 2 reveals 1/8, and so on (note that I used the term reveal as opposed to equal as I believe my example has relevance to our discussion of Heidegger). We know that as we continue to divide by two we are approaching division by infinity. However, infinity is a concept not a number. Hence, the answer we arrive at should be undefined as division by infinity is not allowed. However, division by all numbers leading to infinity is allowed. So, for the sake of this argument, if we allowed division by infinity (or at least the numbers leading to infinity) the answer converges to zero. Zero being interpreted to mean NOTHING. The same should hold true for questioning since questioning reveals answers, which in turn reveals more questions, which further reveals more answers and so on. If the questioning and revealing have a convergent quality we might eventually arrive at a point where we have exhausted the number of questions that are possible, without necessarily find truth or essence. I put forth that if the iterative approach to questioning leads us to finding truth and understanding essence then as the number of questions we ask and revealings we discover approaches infinity then the essence of anything is ……NOTHING?

    At this point you are probably saying, Roman, your logic is flawed as questioning and revealing can not be analyzed through reductionism. What if repeated “doubling” was applied. That is, one is doubled, that answer is then doubled, the next answer is doubled, and so on (e.g. 1,2,4,8,16,32,…). Where does this iteration lead us to? Well, again our friend infinity rears its ugly head. Repeated multiplication by 2 will result in us approaching infinity (or at least a significantly large number). Infinity in this context is interpreted to mean EVERYTHING. When applied to the iterative questioning model, asking questions should lead to an infinite number of asking more questions should the questioning have a divergent quality. I now put forth, as the number of questions we ask approaches an infinite number of other questions we can ask, then logically it would make sense to assume that the essence of anything is …… EVERYTHING.

    Perhaps this was Heidegger’s point, that “essence” encompasses nothing and everything all at once.

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 19:00 | Permalink

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